It’s been roughly six months since Michael Sucsy signed on to direct Every Day, based on David Levithan’s popular YA novel, and he’s sitting in a Los Angeles studio on a Monday afternoon with composer Elliott Wheeler — now so close to the finish line. “It was daunting,” the filmmaker says over the phone of the rapid turnaround.
Every Day marks Sucsy’s first directing gig since his 2012 romantic drama The Vow and, to put things in perspective, he says, “I had as many locations in this film as I had in The Vow and I had almost a little more than half the time to shoot it.” Sucsy shot the film in 26 days all on location with shifting sets and a teenaged cast — who, for legal reasons, couldn’t work overtime because of their age. But the compact schedule was worth it for a story that struck such a personal chord.
The Nice Guys breakout Angourie Rice leads Every Day as Rhiannon, as shown through EW and PEOPLE’s exclusive first-look photos. The 16-year-old meets up with her usually distant boyfriend, Justin (The Get Down’s Justice Smith), to find that he’s uncommonly attentive. The two play hooky from school to have a blissful day on the beach, but the next day comes and it’s as if it never happened. That’s because Justin wasn’t himself that day — he was A, an entity that wakes up every day in someone else’s body.
Over the course of the film, A occupies 16 different bodies: one is played by Rice’s Spider-Man: Homecoming costar Jacob Batalon, another is played by Jeni Ross (Stage Fright), and another is played by transgender actor Ian Alexander (Netflix’s The OA). Just as A falls for Rhiannon, she too finds love with this soul — no matter which body A inhabits.
Sucsy was drawn to the material because of his own “personal journey of trying to evolve and see people for who they are on a… soul level, a cosmic level.” “The idea of seeing beyond race, beyond gender,” he says. “It doesn’t mean that those things don’t exist, they are part of who we are, but they don’t define who we are nearly the way we think they do, and I thought that was beautiful.”
Levithan had previously discussed his attempt to address such LGBTQ-friendly themes, and Sucsy says “it’s very clear” why people are drawn to a love story that transcends gender and the physical body.
“I don’t think of it inherently as a gay story, but there are times where I would explain whether I’m talking to the editor or the composer or the actor… and I was like, it’s A’s coming-out story,” he says. “A has never shared any of these stories before so it’s like coming out and you’re taking a risk.”
“I think that this generation is already on a journey of evolution of seeing people in non-binary ways, but I think that we still do see the world in binary ways: black, white, male, female, those kinds of identifiers,” he adds. “And the world is so much more complex than that, and I don’t mean that we’re just adding categories. It’s like, in truth, there are no categories. We use them here because it makes the world simpler to understand, but on a cosmic level, those things don’t even exist, and… I want people to begin to see that possibility.”
“I think the fantastic thing about this story is that you have so many themes integrated into it,” Rice notes, pointing to the stories of first love, “looking past appearances,” and Rhiannon’s relationship with her mother. “The main message for me,” she says, “is to just be more accepting and to understand that everyone is different and that’s not a bad thing. Diversity is the most important thing for us to understand and accept because it’s a wonderful thing, and I think this story really celebrates that.”
Rice, who was supposed to work with Sucsy on a previous film project that never ended up moving forward, was the first to be cast in Every Day. Three-hundred and fifty actresses auditioned for the role of Rhiannon, but Rice had already been in considerations for the part when a different director had been attached. When Sucsy got the job, she flew in for another screen test.
“She blew us away, so that was how it happened,” the director says.
With the exception of Vic (Alexander), for whom the director looked for both trans men and trans women to fill the part, Sucsy says there weren’t any “prerequisites” for casting the other characters around Rice.
“The through line, I think, with all the 16 actors who play A, it really had something to do with the eyes,” Sucsy recalls. “Not the shape of the eyes… It’s a cliché or a phrase or an old adage — ‘the eyes are the window to the soul’ — and looking into these actors eyes in their audition, I saw a common thread that I suppose, if I were to shorthand it, would be something like an old soul and even though some of these actors were 15-20 years old, the thing that they all share in common is that they all really do have an old soul.”
While the book was written from A’s perspective, screenwriter Jesse Andrews (Me and Early and the Dying Girl) pitched the idea of shifting the viewpoint largely to Rhiannon for the film — which, as it happens, would become the basis for Levithan’s sequel book, Another Day. “I feel it was a really smart choice on Jesse Andrews’ part to change the conceit because in a film you really do want to follow one character through the journey,” Sucsy remarks.
Like with Rhiannon, who finds A in a different body each day, Sucsy didn’t want Rice to be too familiar with the other actors. There were some unavoidable exceptions — Batalon, especially — but Rice called it a “difficult” challenge to “find the true voice of A.”
“But I think they really achieve that with the casting,” she adds, “in that all of the people who played A have a specific quality about them that made them like the character.” Owen Teague (It), Lucas Jade Zumann (20th Century Women), Colin Ford (Under the Dome), Maria Bello (Prisoners), and Debby Ryan (Sing It!) help round out the main cast.
With Every Day scheduled for release on Feb. 23, 2018, Sucsy believes it’s a very modern story for today’s generation. “This generation of people [is] seeing the way the world is and can be with a wider perspective, a wider lens, that allows for things to be more beautiful and more complex, and like I said, less binary,” he says. “It’s a beautiful way to be seeing the world.”